PHILADELPHIA — After a two-month trial and 10 days of deliberation, a jury on Monday decided that Baby A, Baby C and Baby D lived a few fleeting moments outside their mothers’ wombs before their spinal cords were severed at Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic in West Philadelphia.
The way those brief lives ended didn’t amount to abortion but to three acts of first-degree murder, jurors concluded.
Gosnell, in a dark suit and a maroon shirt, furrowed his brow and shook his head slightly but remained stoic when the verdicts were read in a packed Philadelphia courtroom just before 3 p.m. One juror appeared to cry. Prosecutors smiled in relief and later hugged colleagues.
Jurors acquitted Gosnell of third-degree murder but found him guilty on a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar of Virginia, who died from a drug overdose while undergoing an abortion at his clinic.
The jury also acquitted him of murder in the death of another infant, known as Baby E, whom prosecutors had struggled to prove was alive after delivery. Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart previously dismissed three additional first-degree murder charges against Gosnell, each involving other infants.
The trial will move next week into a sentencing phase, when the jurors will be called back to decide whether Gosnell, 72, should receive the death penalty or life in prison. Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty, and the multiple murder convictions are likely to bolster their argument.
Neither prosecutors nor jurors were available for comment after the verdict because a judicial gag order remains in place until the penalty phase ends. Defense attorney Jack McMahon talked briefly with reporters about Monday’s outcome.
“A jury has spoken, and we respect that verdict. . . . That’s our system,” McMahon said, noting that Gosnell was convicted on only three of the original eight murder charges. “The jury worked very, very, very hard. They should be commended.”
Still, McMahon argued that the media had been “overwhelmingly against” Gosnell throughout the trial, and he likened the defense’s case to “salmon swimming upstream.”
He said Gosnell said little to him as the verdicts came in Monday, other than to thank him for putting on an aggressive defense. “How do you prepare anybody for that?” McMahon said, adding: “It’s a very difficult case. There’s a lot of emotion.”
The case, which has unfolded since early March inside Courtroom 304 here, has garnered national attention and inflamed passions on all sides of the abortion divide.
Antiabortion activists have seized on the macabre details — from Gosnell’s practice of “snipping” the spinal cords of fetuses to the dismembered remains that investigators discovered in milk jugs and glass jars inside his Women’s Medical Society clinic — as a wake-up call about the potential for wider abuse in abortion facilities and the need for stricter oversight.
Antiabortion groups and politicians said Monday that the case underscored what they see as the brutality inherent in abortion procedures.
“Some abortionists may have cleaner sheets than Gosnell, and better sterilized equipment and better trained accomplices, but what they do — what Gosnell did — kill babies and hurt women — is the same,” Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) said in a statement.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said he was “praying for the lives taken by Kermit Gosnell,” and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted that “the Gosnell ordeal shouldn’t slip quietly from our conscience.”
Meanwhile, abortion rights groups have insisted that Gosnell’s crimes are an anomaly and that the abysmal conditions inside his clinic persisted only because numerous regulators ignored red flags for years.
Such groups also were quick to praise Monday’s conviction, but they warned that restrictive measures being proposed by lawmakers in some states risk driving women to less-reputable abortion providers and cutting off funding to help low-income women afford the procedures.
“We must reject misguided laws that would limit women’s options and force them to seek treatment from criminals like Kermit Gosnell,” Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.
Despite the tidal wave of outrage surrounding the trial — and complaints about the initial lack of national media coverage — Monday’s outcome seems unlikely to shift the public’s deeply ingrained positions on abortion.
Views of abortion have remained steady for years, and a recent Gallup poll showed that the Gosnell trial has not altered them. About a quarter of Americans said abortion should be legal in all circumstances, according to a poll conducted at the height of the trial. Twenty percent said it should always be illegal, and just over half said it should be legal in some circumstances.